BUFFALO, N.Y. — Ed Cooley has been waiting for this moment his whole life.
For the first time since 1997, the Providence Friars are headed to the Sweet 16 thanks to a dominating 79-51 win over the No. 12 Richmond Spiders in the second round of the 2022 NCAA tournament.
Despite his team holding a lead for the entire game, Cooley said it didn’t hit him that the Friars would advance until just before the final buzzer.
“I was trying to grasp the moment, and Jeff Battle, who is our associate head coach, and is amazing, he said, ‘Coach, this is a wrap.’ With about 1:47, I still thought we were going to lose, and he made me laugh when he said that,” Cooley said. “I just can’t tell you how grateful I feel for our players, our college, our city. It’s hard to get to this point. We’re just a little school that everybody says, ‘Oh, it’s Providence.’ Well, Providence is in the damn building.”
The No. 4 Friars (27-5) came into the tournament with the best seed in school history, though questions about the team’s staying power persisted after a disappointing exit from the Big East tournament. The regular season Big East champs were drilled by Creighton in the semifinals, 85-58.
But after a 66-57 win against dangerous No. 13 South Dakota State to start the NCAA tournament, Providence put together its best performance of the season in the effort against the 12-seed Spiders (24-13). The 28-point margin was the most lopsided NCAA tournament win in Providence history — and the biggest.
“I’m just kind of speechless. I really am,” Cooley said. “To be sitting here with these gentlemen and the sacrifice and the road where the doubt just continues to flow through the veins of those who don’t trust or believe, we’re sitting here. We’re still here, and it’s a testament to their emotional maturity, and their physical talent that was doubted.”
Richmond was held to 1-of-22 on 3-pointers with the team’s top scorers — Tyler Burton and Grant Golden — held to a combined 15 points on 5-of-16 shooting. Six-and-a-half minutes into the second half, Burton and fifth-year guard Jacob Gilyard had combined for just three points.
Both schools attempted exactly 22 3-pointers, but the Friars outscored the Spiders by 33 points on those shots.
Providence senior forward Noah Horchler had a double-double in the game, finishing with 16 points and a season-high 14 rebounds.
“Coach was calling my number today, and, I mean, some days you go in like that,” Horchler said. “Just trust in Coach, and he trusts in me every day, and shots fell today.”
Richmond was held to a season-low 51 points.
This season marked the Friars’ sixth NCAA tournament appearance under Cooley. Providence lost in the second round of the tournament in three straight seasons (2014-16).
But in 2022, an impressive and historic season remains alive. The win was Providence’s 27th of the season, tied with the 1972-73 team that went to the Final Four for the second-most wins in a single season in team history. Two of the Friars’ five losses this season came against Villanova.
“I’m very excited about the Big East to have a member in that field. I’m thinking about my kids. I’m thinking about the journey,” Cooley said. “I’m thinking about our staff. This is stuff you dream about. This is what March Madness is all about.
“As a kid you say, one day when I grow up. Well, I’m grown up, and I’m here. I’m very, very emotional, and — wow. I’m just very, very grateful, very grateful, very appreciative.”
As the game came to a close, the Providence fans in attendance began chanting “We want Kansas,” with the No. 1 Jayhawks next up for the Friars.
As for the doubters, Providence is used to hearing it as its impressive season continues.
“Last time I checked, we weren’t that bad,” Cooley said. “They can’t do this. They can’t do that. I’m a person who appreciates what I have and not what I don’t have. I’m a person that appreciates an opportunity. Anytime there’s 40 minutes in a game, there’s 94 feet of opportunity.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism